What does Grady Sizemore's hot start mean?
After hitting a key homer against the Yankees on Friday night, Boston's Grady Sizemore and his start to 2014 merit further exploration.
In the course of Friday night's 4-2 Red Sox win over the Yankees, we saw glimpses of what Boston outfielder Grady Sizemore was capable of when he was at his best, and we also necessarily saw glimpses of what he's capable of in the here and now.
On a certain level, Sizemore's sprawling injury history suggests that anything he gives the Sox this season should be regarded as a happy accident. Given the loss of Jacoby Ellsbury to a division rival and given the questionable short-term offensive outlook for Jackie Bradley Jr., though, the Sox in reality need production from Sizemore this season.
So far, he's given them just that. After a 2-for-4 night on Friday, Sizemore's 2014 slash line stands at .333/.394/.600 with two homers in nine games. One of those homers came at the expense of CC Sabathia on Friday night ...
That's a homer off a left-handed slider, which is a good thing for Sizemore. Of course, we're dealing with a very limited sample in 2014. Yes, Sizemore is raking thus far, and that's important, since he hasn't produced at a truly high level since 2008. He looks good at the plate -- the pitch-recognition skills and bat speed seem to be there -- but, again, we're talking about fewer than 10 games.
What we can do, though, is look at Sizemore's contact skills to date. A batter's strikeout percentage (K%, or strikeouts as a percentage of total plate appearances) stabilizes very quickly and reveals the underlying state of things much more rapidly than other measures. On that front, there's good news for Sizemore.
Coming into this season, Sizemore has a K% of 20.2, and that figure includes a steady rising trend from 2008 through 2011. This season, though, that figure is down to 15.2 percent in 33 plate appearances. Count his spring training stats so as to enlarge the sample, and we have a K% of 10.3 over 78 plate appearances. For comparison's sake, the league average figure thus far in 2014 is 21.2 percent. Sizemore is making contact when not many other hitters are.
It's good that Sizemore is hitting for average and flashing power in the early going (and it's very good that he's yet to strain, wrench or break anything on his body), but it'll be some time before we know whether that's sustainable. What we do know is that Sizemore is well on his way to showing repeatable and improved contact skills. When many are wondering whether Sizemore's skills at the plate have eroded because of injury and layoff, that's a very encouraging sign.
Here's another enouraging sign ...
That, courtesy of the necessary and wonderful Brooks Baseball, is Sizemore's batted-ball chart for the young season in our midst. For his career, Sizemore has shown strong pull-side tendencies on ground balls but a knack for using the whole field when putting the ball in the air. As the diagram above shows, that's been the case thus far in 2014. All of that suggests he's still got good plate coverage and the ability to make mid-pitch adjustments.
The primary concern with Sizemore will of course always be his penchant for injury, but in terms of performance early indicators -- early meaningful indicators -- suggest he's very adept at putting bat on ball right now. Yes, it's merely the start of one of the most engaging comeback stories in some time, but it's a darn fine start.